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The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment, and declare my interest as chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council, honorary president of the Gun Trade Association and a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee.
I praise the work that the BSSC has put into this issue. It has worked long and hard on the matter and has been willing to go to great lengths to satisfy the Minister's concerns with regard to public safety, which some would say were adequately covered by the powers given to the police in Clause 43. The BSSC put forward the wording of these amendments, having taken great care to consult the Home Office to find a workable solution. On behalf of the BSSC, I thank my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his tireless support on the issue. He is a true friend of British sport, as we have seen throughout the passage of the Bill.
I should like to reiterate what my noble friend has said, but let us consider the matter from the point of view of the individual whom the Government are trying to isolate with the legislation. I refer to the anti-social young person who is prepared to risk the safety of others to get his kicks out of an airgun. Under the law as it stands, he can be arrested if he carries an airgun in public without a securely fastened cover. To some of your Lordships, that item might not seem all that stringent. Under my noble friend's amendments, not only would he have to do that, but he would have
What young person out to create serious mischief with an airgun is going to go to the trouble of having all that information with him and, abiding by those restrictions, go and take a potshot at a cat? Young responsible sporting shooters, on the other hand, have willingly and wisely shown themselves to be prepared to give up all those freedoms to retain their right to carry the tool that they use for their sport in public places.
Her Majesty's Government say that what they propose in the clause will not affect shooting sports. The work that the BSSC has put into the issue shows exactly how passionate young sporting shooters are about protecting that aspect of their sports.
The Government say that our proposals will not work because hooligans will break the law anyway, or would do it behind our backs, and the police would be unable to stop them. Surely, the Government know that one cannot build legislation on such an assumption. Why introduce the excellent proposal in Clause 43, which the shooting community fully supports, to require everyone carrying an airgun in a public place to be able to provide good cause or reasonable excuse for so doing, if one is trying to tackle the minority of the population who will just ignore the requirement completely? It is fairly academic that the Government do not have faith in the police to do their job properly. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will support my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Addington: My Lords, Amendment No. 76 seems a reasonable amendment. If the Government are going to allow people to go on shooting rifles, and allow shooting sports generally, they will allow youth into the sport. The amendment would mean that young people could get there and take part in the sport, and would replace considerable numbers of restrictions on transporting weapons. If we say that young people must be tied to a parent or supervising adult, many young people will simply drop out and it will become more difficult.
Let us please have a little consistency. I agree that we must not take lightly firearms of any description, but if we are allowing them to be used legally, we must allow them to be used to a realistic level. We can support the amendment because it reaches that balanced point. We hope that the Government respond favourably to the issue because, realistically, they do not have much choiceunless they are saying that they want to cut down on shooting sports.
I absolutely understand the Government's objective in trying to marginalise those few individuals who are intent on making people's lives miserable through the irresponsible use of airguns. At the same time, it is important that the responsibleand I am sure that the Minister would agree that by far and away the majority of those who use airguns are responsibleare not penalised out of proportion.
As my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury said, as the law stands, anyone who carries an airgun in a public place without a securely fastened cover is in breach of the law. I should have thought that that was by far and away the major deterrent. The amendment would add to that a list of additional restrictions, including not carrying ammunition and the requirement to carry valid identification. I suggest that that combination would act to deter all but the very few who are intent on breaking the law.
Of course, we cannot legislate to cover all possibilities, but we must pass laws that are reasonable, practical and above alland this is a very important pointshow respect for the responsible people. If we add to the amendments the sensible proposals in Clause 43, we have reached a sensible and fair balance. Without the amendment, responsible airgun users who indulge in target shooting or carry out necessary pest control activities on farmland are likely to be seriously compromised, as indeed will other members of their families who in some cases will have to give up precious time to ferry them around.
I realise that these amendments appear to address relatively small and irrelevant issues. However, the pressures of regulation and red tape are constantly bearing down on the rural communities. The Government gave the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, the task of looking at red tape in rural matters and he came up with a whole series of proposals, but the Government completely ignored most of them. I hope that the Government realise that red tape, particularly in the rural sector, is getting out of all proportion. If the Bill is enacted as it stands at the moment, it will create considerable difficulties in the rural sector.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I support my colleagues and noble Lords on all sides of the House who have spoken in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Moynihan. He said, as I did in my previous intervention, that the Government's manifesto said that it would not affect shooting. However, that is exactly what is happening. We all know that it is a slippery slope into much more severe regulation, often by guidance to chief constables, which could make it very difficult indeed to operate with firearms. One sees that not only in this legislation. We saw it last weekend in the "Sports Cabinet" at which the sports Ministers, UK Sport and other sports councils met and decided that financial support would
I support the comments of my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury about the BSSC. I have been involved with that fine organisation, and I declare an interest as a past president of the NSRA, the NRA and the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association. When it comes to firearms all those organisations know what they are talking about, much more than the Government know what they are talking about. The Government ought to listen. They ought to be glad to have the advice of the BSSC on how they should proceed. The Government's thinking as manifested in their legislation shows a lack of information.
It is no wonder at all that the Government's direction in this matter is causing grave concern to some crack shots, both boys and girls. We all understand the Government's worry about imitation weapons, conversions and so on. However, an attack on youth and airguns is not justified. It is certainly not justified as regards air rifles. Most gun crime, of course, involves handguns. The provisions as they affect airguns will do nothing to help reduce the incidence of firearm crime.
We want youngsters, through experience with adults, to learn how to shoot safely and to enjoy it for years to come. It is all very well for the noble Baroness to say, "On private land they can do what they like". They have to get to that private land. They have to move from their homes to a farm or to wherever they have permission to shoot. The point applies similarly to youngsters who are high-quality marksmen and want to go to the nearest indoor range, an open range, a railway station or an airport so that they can compete internationally. All that would be banned by the Government's incredible restriction on movement for 14 to 17 year-olds.
As I said, I hope that the Minister will ensure that draft guidance is shown to both Houses of Parliament so that we can see how that guidance relates to the legislation. Very often such guidance takes a stride or two further forward than was ever approved by Members of both Houses. At this stage, however, I hope that the noble Baroness will realise that she is on a losing wicket, that she has not very many friends in this building tonight and that she might as well concede it.
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